Transport Minister gets a first hand view of East West Rail plans

East West Rail Consortium members today (Monday December 5) gave Transport Minister Theresa Villiers a first hand view of the proposals to link Oxford, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Bedford by rail, when she visited Bicester Town station.

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers with Ann Limb, Chair of South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership and Cllr Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council

Her visit follows Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement in last week’s Autumn Statement that east-west rail is included in the government’s rail investment programme for 2014 to 2019. It could be running by 2017, making it the first major railway in England to be reopened since the 1960s Beeching era.

The Minister met local MPs and Consortium members, and saw plans and schematics for the proposed route. Bicester Town, currently the end of the line for a shuttle train to Oxford, will be developed by Chiltern Railways as part of its new London to Oxford service, and form the junction for the planned east-west rail line towards Milton Keynes.

The Consortium of businesses and local authorities has for 16 years been championing the cause of improved east-west rail links to improve transport connections and stimulate economic growth, and Chairman Neil Gibson said members were encouraged by the minister’s visit. ‘This really does put us on track for the government’s investment programme,’ he said. ‘We’ve a very strong business case, but there’s still much work to do to before final approval.’

The Consortium project board will meet on December 13 to review the implications of the Autumn Statement announcement. Partners want to identify the next steps they need to take to meet the conditions of Government support and to develop practical project arrangements with Network Rail and the rail industry.

As part of the National Infrastructure Plan, the £270 million east-west link has Government approval on two conditions: a sound business case, and a ‘suitable local contribution’. Work on confirming the business case and developing a local contribution portfolio will aim at a deadline of Spring 2012.